Substance Abuse

By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

In today's world, substance abuse can simply be defined as a pattern of harmful use of any substance for mood-altering purposes. Millions of youth aged between 12 to 17 years are reported using inhalants at least once in their life. Inhalants of different forms like liquids, sprays and gases that people sniff or inhale to give them a high or to give them certain amount of pleasure are used.

Many children and adolescents use alcohol and other drugs. Some develop serious problems which require professional help to control. Such as inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, twelve step programs, and dual diagnosis units for individuals with emotional and substance abuse problems.

Using alcohol and tobacco at a young age increases the risk of using other drugs later. Some teens will experiment and stop, or continue to use occasionally, without significant problems. Others will develop a dependency, moving on to more dangerous drugs and causing significant harm to themselves and possibly others.

Following are some of the common substances that are abused by today's children and adolescents:

  • Alcohol: The average age when youth first try alcohol is 11 years for boys and 13 years for girls.
  • Tobacco: Smoking is associated with a host of other risky behaviors, such as fighting and engaging in unprotected sex.
  • Inhalants: The types of inhalants most commonly used in the life of today's youth are glue, shoe polish, medicinal ointments, petrol, gasoline, cigarettes, alcohol, spray paints and lighter fluids that take them away to a world a fantasy, away from existing reality. Youths who have been addicted to a continuous intake of an inhalant in the past have made it difficult for them to get off their addiction and have lead them to problems regarding their health.
  • Prescribed medications - These are drugs or antibiotics or prescribed by a doctor.
  • Over-the-counter - These are drugs such as cough, cold, sleep, and diet medications.
  • Marijuana: In studies done in 1998 and 1999, 56 percent of 12 to 17 year olds reported that marijuana was easy to get and 72 percent of this group reported that alcohol was very easy to obtain.
  • Club drugs: This term refers to drugs such as 'ecstasy' and LSD that are being used by teens and young adults at all-night dance parties such as "raves" or "trances," dance clubs, and bars.
  • Stimulants: The possible long-term effects of stimulants such as crack, a form of cocaine, include tolerance and dependence, violence and aggression, malnutrition due to suppression of appetite.
  • Depressants: These are drugs used medicinally to relieve anxiety, irritability, and tension.
  • Steroids: These are a group of powerful compounds closely related to the male sex hormone testosterone.

Different substances lend themselves to different groups of symptoms. The most evident symptom in all cases is a change, sometimes a radical one, in behavior. There are a variety of substance abuse treatment programs. It is advisable that the parents and caretakers seek professional help from a child and adolescent psychiatrist before making any decision about the type of treatment for the child or teenager.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,